Celebrating 10 years of sports tourism

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s customary to take stock of the past year and make predictions about the future. The WMSC turns 10 years old in 2017 (February 2007 the IRS officially recognized us as a non-profit), so I’ve made a Top 10 list of our contributions since 2007. And I’ll give away the punchline – we’ve had a decade of growth even our founders couldn’t have foreseen.

Top 10 highlights:

1. Made West Michigan a sports destination.  Since 2007, we have become the go-to organization for youth and amateur sporting events and tournaments in West Michigan; hosting more than 560 events that attracted 880,000 athletes and visitors. And many of those were national sporting events, some of which were hosted in Michigan for the first time.

2. Boosted the local economy. When we opened our doors, we set out to attract regional and national sporting events to spur economic growth through visitor spending. In our first year, we landed 21 sporting events, attracting 33,900 visitors and $7 million in direct visitor spending. In 2016, we hosted 80 events and 150,000 visitors, generating $48.5 million in direct spending. In total, our organization has attracted a cumulative 568 sporting events since 2007 that generated an estimated $240 million in direct visitor spending.

3. Created a statewide signature event. In 2010, we created the Meijer State Games of Michigan (MSGOM), an Olympics-style event to replicate similar State Games in other states. By 2016, the seventh year of the Meijer State Games–Summer Games, we have nearly tripled the number of sports (43 sports in 2016 from 15 sports in 2010), more than doubled the number of athletes (7,943 in 2016 from 3,500 in 2010), and doubled direct spending ($3 million in 2015 from $1.4 million in 2010). We added a Winter Games event in 2014 that is steadily increasing its participation as well with the 4th installment taking place February 17-19, 2017.

4. Built a tournament-quality baseball/softball complex. The WMSC determined early on that Grand Rapids was the largest city in Michigan without a championship-level baseball and softball complex for travel tournaments, and we set about to change that. Using 99 percent private contributions to construct it, we opened the Art Van Sports Complex in August 2014. In its first two full seasons, the complex hosted 35 tournaments that brought in 1,250 teams, 15,000 participants, 40,000-plus spectators and 14,000 booked hotel room nights – generating a cumulative $8 million in direct visitor spending in West Michigan.

5. Encouraged adjacent sports facilities. Our plans also motivated other groups. For example, the AVSC spurred adjacent sports facility growth:

6. Attracted marquee national events. Our team has worked hard to position West Michigan as a premier destination for state and national tournaments alike. Through a grueling competitive process, the WMSC won bids to host five NCAA National Championships and one NCAA Regional Championship from 2015 to 2017. In the past year alone, the WMSC hosted the ACHA D3 Men’s Ice Hockey National Championship, 2016 WCHA Championships in March; NCAA DII 2016 Men’s Golf Regionals in May, Game Day USA National Championships in June; and the USA Track and Field 2016 Masters Outdoor Championships and American Youth Basketball National Championships in July.

7. Booked broad mix of sports. While we have always bid on tournaments for mainstream sports, we have strived to diversify tournaments throughout the years to reach broader audiences. Who would have guessed when we started in 2007 that we would someday host the USRowing Masters National Championships, USA Table Tennis-U.S. Open (three times!), Midwest Quidditch Regional Championship, Midwest Regional Cyclocross Championships and USA Synchro Masters Championships? In 2017, we will host two more niche sports events: the 2017 USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships Jan. 28 and the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) Masters World Championships Aug. 12-19.

8. Landed bid to host the State Games of America. As a testament to our State Games success, we won the bid to host the 2017 State Games of America Aug. 3-6, 2017 against three other cities – the pinnacle event of more than 30 individual state game competitions. The biennial event will bring in approximately 12,000 athletes (4,000 from out of state), 30,000 attendees, and an estimated economic impact of nearly $10 million to West Michigan.

9. Drive conversation about sports infrastructure. While we generally aren’t in the business of building venues, our goal is to review and discuss our sports facility needs. We assembled a team to inventory area facilities and make recommendations in 2017. Ideas already include a multi-sports complex and developing the Grand River into an all-paddle sports venue – recommendations that were echoed in Grand Action’s Destination Asset Study released at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids meeting earlier this month.

10. Improve quality of life. With every sport we attract, we not only want to infuse dollars into the economy, we want to improve the quality of life for our residents. Whether it is hosting events like the State Games of Michigan that athletes of every age and ability can join for fun and health benefits, or hosting fast-paced tournaments like the USA Table Tennis-US Open that give families wholesome social activities, our goal is to make life better for West Michigan residents. And we’re doing that, one event at a time.

Thanks for your support these past 10 years. It’s been a wild ride, and we can’t wait to see what the next decade brings.


P.S. Please contact me you’d like to get more involved with the West Michigan Sports Commission, whether as a volunteer, sponsor, event partner or advisory council member. We’re always looking for great people who want to grow our region through youth and amateur sports.



Mike Guswiler
Mike is president of the West Michigan Sports Commission.

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